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How much corruption should be ‘pardoned’?

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POLOGISED—Simsokwe

While President Lazarus Chakwera and his deputy Saulos Chilima are busy “draining the swamp” of corruption and other iniquities in public offices, somewhere in Karonga District, elected officials seem to be providing fertile soil for the vices to thrive, writes our correspondent CHRISTIAN JUMA.

A few days ago, the Full Council for Karonga District, sitting at Baka Community Day Secondary School, elected Chilanga Ward councillor Steven Simsokwe as its chairperson following the expiry of his predecessor Ethel Mwanza’s term.

This is despite that Simsokwe is embroiled in a K2.4 million land and plot distribution scam involving some vendors at Karonga Central Market.

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Interestingly, on the day, the Full Council was supposed to discuss a report from a Commission of Enquiry on alleged illegal collection of money and plot distribution by three ward councillors who are part of the council.

The report faults Democratic Progressive Par ty (DPP) councillor for Rukuru Ward Smart Mwakayira, Malawi Congress Party’s Simsokwe and UTM councillor for Kaporo Ward Ngasalayumo Mwangonde who allegedly dubiously solicited money from about 80 maize vendors for the plots.

According to the 31-page report by the commission which was chaired by Traditional Authority Kalonga of the lakeshore district, the three politicians in liaison with other employees from the council’s Land Department solicited a cumulative total of K2.4 million in plot application and allocation fees, among others, but never remitted the money into the council’s account.

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When the rep o r t was presented to the Full Council for deliberation, the three admitted to have committed the act, asked for forgiveness and promised to refund the money in two months, saying they did that out of ignorance.

“There was pressure from the vendors during the rainy season and they wanted permanent and safe shelters for business. With the absence of the allocation committee, we thought we could do that to save the situation,” Mwakayira said in defence.

This, however, did not amuse some of the council members. Outgoing chairperson Mwanza and Songwe Ward Councillor Misheck Mwaiyengo vehemently asked for justice to take its course, saying Ward Councillors who are entrusted to run council affairs must have clean hands.

“It is not on for duly-elected leaders to indulge themselves in corrupt and dubious affairs. Let the House use laid-down procedures to deal with the situation and set the record straight. If this will be left unchecked, we will set a very bad precedent,” Mwanza charged.

On his part, Mwaiyengo argued that the election of one of the accused to be the council’s chairperson may infuriate the community and incite violence.

“I think as a council, we could do better than this. How can we elect someone with a questionable track record to be our chairperson?” Mwaiyengo queried.

However, Simsokwe remorsefully asked for total forgiveness, saying the absence of an allocation committee at the council compelled them to swiftly act without knowing that they were contravening the law.

In an interview to establish whether the council acted within the Local Government Act by electing someone who is implicated in a scam, Karonga District Commissioner Paul Kalilombe said after every council meeting, his office writes the Ministry of Local Government to brief it on the development and it is the ministry that has the final say.

“As the Controlling Officer, my role is just to write the ministry on what transpired in the meeting. The ministry will decide what to do next,” Kalilombe said.

On his part, Mbande Area Development Committee chairperson Fwasani Silungwe expressed dismay over the development, saying the House handled the issue with kids’ gloves and has since called on the council to nullify the election and let the implicated councillors face the full wrath of the law Justice and Peace of Karonga Diocese Desk Officer Louis Nkhata, whose organisations is mandated to promote good governance, human rights and the rule of law, has condemned the alleged corrupt practices by the councillors and has since called on relevant authorities to take proper action.

“We call upon Karonga District Council to immediately relieve all Ward Councillors mentioned in the report and be disciplined immediately along with all council officials who are also involved in the scam,” Nkhata said.

DPP Member of Parliament (MP) for Karonga North Constituency Mungasulwa Mwambande shared similar sentiments, saying he and his fellow MPs as watchdogs marched out of the meeting immediately after the outcome of the elections in protest as they did not want to be associated with what he termed as promotion of corrupt leadership.

“At the end of the day, history will judge us,” Mwambande said. “Therefore, we have to be exemplary in whatever we do. The council is regarded as the hub of development. That means whatever happens there affects the socio-economic growth of the district and the country as a whole.”

Social and governance commentator, Makhumbo Munthali, blamed the council for entrusting the chairmanship with a ‘compromised’ Ward Councillor, saying the position needs a person whose integrity is not dented.

“If those allegations are true, then it is unfortunate that the whole Full Council went ahead to elect someone who is involved in illegal transactions to lead it. It does not reflect well not only on the chairperson but the council as a whole.

“The best the chairperson could do was to resign from the post to pave way for further investigations while the District Council should seek guidance from the ministry of Local Government,” Munthali said.

Minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa during his familiarisation tour in the district strongly warned the concerned Ward Councillors and council staff, saying the development is retrogressive in nature and charged that the long arm of the law will not spare anyone involved in land corruption.

“This government will not spare anyone found corruptly selling, buying or encroaching on government land. Let everyone who did so nobly surrender that piece of land to relevant authorities,” Msukwa said.

Paramount Chief Kyungu of Karonga also condemned illegal land deals which he said have resulted into both public and private plots being encroached onto.

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